John Desmond Bernal

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bernal, John Desmond


Born May 10, 1901, in Nenagh. English physicist and public figure. Member of the Royal Society of London (1937).

Bernal graduated from Cambridge University in 1922. Between 1923 and 1927 he worked at the Davy Faraday Laboratory in London. He was at Cambridge University from 1927 to 1937. From 1937 he was a professor at London University. He worked in the area of antiaircraft defense between 1939 and 1942 and from 1942 to 1945 was a scientific adviser to the joint operations staff.

Bernal’s main scientific work is in the area of crystallography. He has investigated the structures of graphite, metals, water, styrenes, hormones, vitamins, proteins, viruses, and building materials, especially cements. In 1933 he presented the so-called Bernal model of ice, which made it possible to explain the behavior of water in all compounds. He is also the author of works on the theory of the liquid state. He wrote works on the role and place of science in the life of society, dealing with the philosophical significance of science and the interrelations of science, technology, and social conditions, and on the influence of science on social development from the standpoint of dialectical materialism; he showed the distinctive features of the development of science under capitalism and socialism. His book The Social Function of Science (1938) initiated a new area of knowledge—science studies. He is an active fighter for peace and has been the executive president of the Presidium of the World Council of Peace (1959–65), vice-chairman of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, and president of the International Union of Crystallography (1963–66). He is a foreign member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1958) and of many other scientific academies throughout the world. In 1953 he won the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Between Nations.


Engels and Science. London, 1935.
The Social Function of Science. London, 1938.
The Origin of Life. London, 1967.
In Russian translation:
“Znachenie strukturnogo analiza kristallov ν sovremennoi nauke.” Uspekhi khimii, 1950, vol. 19, no. 4.
“Rol’ vody ν kristallicheskikh veshchestvakh.” Uspekhi khimii, 1956, vol. 25, no. 5.
Nauka ν istorii obshchestva. Moscow, 1956.
Mir bez voiny. Moscow, 1960.
[Articles] in the collection Nauka o nauke. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from English.)
Vozniknovenie zhizni. Moscow, 1969.


Rozhanskii, I. D. “Dzh. Bernal (K 50-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia).” Uspekhi fizicheskikh nauk, 1951, vol. 45, issue 2. (Contains a bibliography of Bernal’s works.)
Snow, C. P. “Dzhon Desmond Bernal.” In the collection Nauka o nauke. Moscow, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The rarely-seen crayon drawing of a mythical winged couple that he etched into the plaster wall of crystallographer and Marxist J.D. Bernal's flat captures that moment superbly.
I had read the works of J.D. Bernal FRS, whose pioneering book The Social Function of Science was published in 1938.
(4) Caught out by such inconsistencies, things can get quite messy: for example, Goodway dismisses my identification of Naum Gabo as an anarchist by citing Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder's exhaustive monograph, Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, to the effect that Gabo was close friends with the 'Stalinist crystallographer' J.D. Bernal. He neglects, however, to note that Hammer and Lodder have concluded Gabo was an anarchist from his teenage years forward:
His main work was in the field of embryology, but in this he was advancing the work of the theoretical biology movement, continuing the research program of mathematico-physico-chemical morphology developed by Waddington along with Joseph Needham, J.D. Bernal and others at Cambridge in the 1930s.
At the same time, many scientists turned to the left and some, such as J.D. Bernal, embraced the secular religion of Marxism and joined the Communist Party.
Accordingly, he not only has an entry for God but not for Satan (or Evil, for that matter); he also ignores just about everyone on CSL's "'enemies' list," including J.D. Bernal, Olaf Stapledon, and even J.B.S.
This author participated in a failed attempt to form a Canadian affiliate in the late 1950s following a visit by Professor J.D. Bernal to Montreal.
As his list included Professor J.D. Bernal, the 'Red Dean', Dr Hewlett Johnson, D.N.
If you look up his attack on J.D. Bernal in Polemic and his debate with Konni Zilliacus in Tribune (two leftist reviews with a combined circulation of less than Cockburn's or mine) you will see him energetically saying that certain people are carrying water for the People's Democracies and must be unmasked.
An example of this is J.D. Bernal's The World, the Flesh and the Devil (long out of print but available online at, which examined our prospects in terms that seemed bizarre in 1929 but resonate strongly today: engineered human reproduction, biotech, our extension into totally new environments such as the deep oceans and outer space.
Following the lead of the physicist, J.D. Bernal (1901-71), let us refer to this twentieth-century phenomenon as the Scientific-Technical Revolution.
Although there is the very occasional slip (like thinking that J.D. Bernal was a Frenchman, 29), it is on the whole an impeccably researched work, and an utter vindication of the utility of studying science fiction by means of selected themes and a thorough exploration of the published corpus.